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China Vows to Intensify Drug War

Chinese officials have called for an intensification of counter-narcotic efforts, after months of strengthening the country’s international drug control ties with neighbouring nations.

Guo Shengkun, Minister of Public Security and head of the National Narcotics Control Commission (NNCC), said on March 23 that an intensified crackdown would reduce drug use. In order to do this, he said, counter-narcotic policy should target people who produce and traffic drugs, and "[control] drug user groups", state broadcaster CCTV reports.

In October 2016, President Xi Jinping met with Rodrigo Duterte, the President of the Philippines who is responsible for the mass slaughter of people allegedly involved with drugs. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that Jinping's government would "[support] the new Philippine government's efforts in drug control", among other security issues.

In November, Shengkun vowed to improve drug control cooperation with neighbouring Myanmar, according to Chinese state press agency Xinhua. Myanmar is one of three countries that are home to the Golden Triangle, the largest illicit opium-producing region in the world – after Afghanistan.

On March 21, Shengkun and Russian Minister of Internal Affairs, Vladimir Kolokoltsev, signed a memorandum for bilateral cooperation in law enforcement. While publicised details thus far do not reveal drug control elements, the signing of the agreement came on the same day that Kolokoltsev said he sought to work with China to "[prevent] the creation of steady flows of drug supplies", Russian news agency TASS reports.

These bilateral cooperative measures come in addition to the work of an ongoing joint Chinese-Australia counter-narcotic taskforce, Taskforce Blaze, which was launched in 2015 to tackle international methamphetamine smuggling.

On March 24, Australian law enforcement officials praised Chinese authorities for their successes in Taskforce Blaze, after it was revealed that the group had seized seven tons of drugs since its inception.

"China for us is a new arena. Their way of operating, their political system – everything is completely different," Australian Federal Police commander Bruce Hill said, according to News.com.au. "But I must say they are making a very strong, sincere effort, particularly with us, to bridge that gap… they see the advantages of this union and of us working together".

Chinese officials may be looking to ramp up their drug war, as there has been a dip in domestic drug arrests and seizures.

Last year, 2016, marked the first year in which the number of people arrested for drug production or trafficking reduced, when compared to the preceding year, since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012.

According to the NNCC’s annual report, which was published on March 22, around 168,000 people were arrested for drug production or trafficking in 2016 – a 13 per cent decrease from the estimated 194,000 people arrested for such offences in 2015.

Meanwhile, 82.1 tons of illegal drugs – including heroin, methamphetamine, and ketamine – were seized by police in 2016; a 19 per cent decrease from the estimated 102 tons seized in 2015.

China already has some of the most repressive drug policies in the world. It is estimated to have executed more people for drug offences than any other country, and President Jinping has vowed that there will be "no rest until a sweeping victory" in his country's unrelenting war on drugs.

The remarks from Guo Shengkun, and the government’s growing international partnerships in drug control, may mark a step towards an even more authoritarian and prohibitionist approach.

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